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Top 7 Ways to Successfully Run a Business with Your Spouse Without Sinking the Relationship
By Alice Cunningham
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When I met my husband Blair Osborn in 1975, I had no idea that our chance encounter would fuel a 30-year partnership in life and business. Since 1977, Olympic Hot Tub Company has helped customers around the Puget Sound find relaxation in the comfort of their own backyards. As marriage and business partners, we understand that stress, aches, pains, and other consequences of busy lives give us all pause to seek more relaxation and rejuvenation in our lives. Making time for both is essential for us and the customers we are committed to serve.
Through countless ups and downs over the years, we’ve learned that there are several skills vital to the smooth functioning of any partnership. In no other endeavor is it more important to understand and master these skills than in a business relationship with your spouse. To follow are our hard won lessons that will serve others seeking to get into business with a marriage partner without sinking the marriage or the business.
- Commitment is cornerstone. When Blair and I started our business, most people thought we were crazy. Still, we remained committed to our mission and vowed to stay with it. We quickly discovered that running a business required knowledge and resources we hadn’t yet acquired. We were generalists on a straight up learning curve to acquire instant expertise in everything. Our success also required a large amount of start-up capital. Acquiring these funds was risky and stressful. Other obstacles like emerging competition could have easily prompted us to throw in the towel, yet our commitment kept us afloat. Woody Allen once quipped that 80% of success is just showing up. Blair and I always show up, and that continues to make the difference, no matter what the circumstances.
- Trust combats conflict. When two are reliant upon each other for personal fulfillment and professional success, trust is vital. We vow to tell the truth and hold nothing back. Trust is attained when the ground rules are spelled out, especially the guidelines about how to deal with disagreement. Lack of a clear goal or agreed upon process causes undercurrents of confusion and eventually separation.
- Speak and listen carefully. It is crucial to be clear about intentions. This is the case for both a loving and supportive relationship and a prosperous business partnership. And having both takes focus and intention. It is also important to communicate about the things that matter – good or bad. When plastic spas were introduced to the market, Olympic would have failed had we not changed our business, done due diligence and research, and found a line of portable spas we were proud to sell. These decisions and actions required much dialogue.
- Sharing is key. Both must extend beyond themselves to consider the well being of the other and the shared goals of the partnership and the company. When one has an idea, share it with the other to gain insight, perspective, and support. Olympic Hot Tub has built a solid reputation with customers and suppliers. Consistent customer satisfaction and referrals have fueled our progress. However, this did not happen overnight. Blair and I spent countless hours sharing ideas to create referral programs, satisfaction surveys, maintenance standards, and customer communications that reinforce our value proposition.
- Be flexible. Husband and wife must adjust to honor the changing desires and circumstances of each. Goals and dreams, outlooks and perceptions are constantly taking shape as the seasons of life come and go. It is crucial to acknowledge this and be willing to bend and sway to accomodate accordingly.
- United you stand. Establish common understanding and decision making processes to ensure consistent messaging throughout the business and clear vision for the future. Business philosophies need to be consistently aligned and remain so as the business grows. Since 1977, Olympic Hot Tub Company committed to make it easy to take it easy for our customers. In the process, we provide a product that enhances their lives in a way that far exceeds their expectations. Together we stand to deliver this promise. We do not let employees, vendors, or customers cause division. Our like-mindedness directs business philosophies, operating guidelines, and communication.
- Private time is a ‘must.’ It is inevitable that the business will join a couple at the dinner table or on the weekends. Boundaries are necessary to maintain a sense of intimacy and togetherness. Be specific and intentional about creating a space where the business is not discussed, and be clear about where and when your best ideas come to light. We refer to our hot tub as our think tank. We get our best ideas when we soak together and are relaxed.
Alice Cunningham is co-owner and co-president of Olympic Hot Tub Company -- the most award-winning retailer in the United States. Olympic Hot Tub opened is the oldest spa and hot tub company in the Northwest with five retail stores located in Seattle, Fife, Issaquah, Lacey, and Everett and a sales and service center in Tukwila. Founded in 1977, the company employs 45 exceptional team members and has a customer base of over 14,000 in greater Puget Sound and SE Alaska. For more information, contact Alice at , 206-431-2876, 1-877-4HOT-SPRING, or visit http://www.olympichottub.com.
Article Submitted On: May 08, 2006